On this feast day of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzum, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a post at Patheos about Arianism today. Here's a taste:
"Today Arianism takes a different form, and comes to us in the guise of humanism. . . . This watered down Christianity is our modern form of Arianism. The cultural context of the heresy and it’s expression is different, but the essence of the heresy is the same as it always was: “Jesus Christ is a created being. His ‘divinity’ is something that developed or was added to his humanity by God.”
"The difference between Arius and the modern heretics is that Arius was actually explicit in his teaching. The modern heretics are not. They inhabit our seminaries, our monasteries, our rectories and presbyteries. They are the modernist clergy who dominate the mainstream Protestant denominations and who are too many in number within the Catholic Church as well."
At the beginning of that series of Advent posts, I quoted St. Matthew's Gospel, where Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" Much of the series, especially the posts on the O Antiphons, looked at who the saints said Jesus is. The O Antiphons, in particular, echo, and are echoed by, the words of the Church Fathers including St. Basil the Great in defining who they said Jesus is as the same God as the God of the Old Testament, and as the Messiah described in Old Testament prophecy.
That series is much in agreement with Father Longenecker's post. Indeed, besides Arianism, two of the writings I found from the early Church Fathers using the words later sung in the O Antiphons are writings against the heresy of Marcionism, a heresy that rejected the Old Testament God and that did not view Christ as the same God as the law-giver God of the Old Testament. The words we sing in the final week of Advent (such as "O Root of Jesse Stem" and "O Law Giver") are rooted and defined in the Church Fathers' writings against heresy. Those writings include St. John Chrysostom's homily against the Marcionists and the Manichaeans (defending the reality of the incarnation and Christ as the same God as the Old Testament God: "We beheld Him as a young child, as a root in a dry ground;” and by the dry ground he means the virgin’s womb. And again “unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” and again “there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall spring out of his root.”) and St. Irenaeus's argument against Marcionism in Against Heresies (Christ as lawgiver, being the same God who gave the Judaic law to Moses: "Now all these [precepts], as I have already observed, were not [the injunctions] of one doing away with the law, but of one fulfilling, extending, and widening it among us. . . .Inasmuch, then, as all natural precepts are common to us and to them (the Jews), they had in them indeed the beginning and origin; but in us they have received growth and completion.").
Arianism and Marcionism both rear their heads today in modern forms, forcing us to again answer the question Jesus posed: "But who do you say that I am?" The answer is crucial now as it was in the Gospels and in the Early Church.
Let my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal. “Where is the wise man? where the disputer?” Where is the boasting of those who are styled prudent? For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.
The cross of Christ is indeed a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to the believing it is salvation and life eternal. “Where is the wise man? where the disputer?” Where is the boasting of those who are called mighty? For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For says [the Scripture], “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel.” He was born and was baptized by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet.
Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown,which were wrought in silence by God. How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else [in the heavens]. Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death.
Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence, but have been revealed to us. A star shone forth in heaven above all that were before it, and its light was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star. It far exceeded them all in brightness, and agitation was felt as to whence this new spectacle [proceeded]. Hence worldly wisdom became folly; conjuration was seen to be mere trifling; and magic became utterly ridiculous. Every law of wickedness vanished away; the darkness of ignorance was dispersed; and tyrannical authority was destroyed, God being manifested as a man, and man displaying power as God.
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el.
- Isaiah 7:10-14
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el”
It is the last O Antiphon before Christmas: “O Emmanuel (God with us), our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God!”
"Come to save us, O Lord." Icons of the Nativity include allusions to the crucifixion. Rublev's icon shown here is one example: The baby is wrapped in swaddling clothes that look like burial clothes. The cave prefigures the tomb. Christ is born to save us by his death on the cross and resurrection.
St. Ignatius of Antioch's Epistle to the Ephesians is fitting to the last full day of Advent. The first Masses of Christmas are only hours from now. St. Ignatius's letter repeatedly mentions the Nativity and the virgin's son Emmanuel, interspersed with references to the Crucifixion. In one paragraph, he wrote: "The cross of Christ is indeed a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to the believing it is salvation and life eternal. . . . He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For says [the Scripture], 'Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel.'”
It almost seems like a series of non-sequitors when viewed in the context of our cultural expectation of Christmas joy. But those cultural expectations disappoint people, often rooted in childhood excitement and leaving adults sad because they do not feel the happiness they think they are supposed to feel. Those expectations do not reflect the traditional meaning of Christmas. Christ was born as Emmanuel (God with us) to die for our sins. It is beautiful, joyful, and awe inspiring.
Then there is St. Ignatius's reference to divine silence, blending the Nativity and the Crucifixion in one sentence: "Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown,which were wrought in silence by God." We've seen that divine silence, God's silence, mentioned in one of the other quotes from the Church Fathers used in this series of Advent posts. Christmas silence, silent night silence, is an adult silence in profound awe over the mystery of the birth of our Lord who came to save us.
The darkness of Advent is dispersed by the light of Christ. "A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars." God is manifested as a man, as King, lawgiver and savior. O Emmanuel, come to save us.
1. Forasmuch as the things which needed to be said concerning this matter have been brought, I think, to a proper ending, we must praise God (whose Names are infinite) as “Holy of holies” and “King of kings,” reigning through Eternity and unto the end of Eternity and beyond it, and as “Lord of lords” and “God of gods.” And we must begin by saying what we understand by “Very Holiness,” what by “Royalty,” “Dominion,” and “Deity,” and what the Scripture means by the reduplication of the titles.
2. Now Holiness is that which we conceive as a freedom from all defilement and a complete and utterly untainted purity. And Royalty is the power to assign all limit, order, law, and rank. And Dominion is not only the superiority to inferiors, but is also the entirely complete and universal possession of fair and good things and is a true and steadfast firmness; wherefore the name is derived from a word meaning “validity” and words meaning severally “that which possesseth validity” and “which exerciseth” it. And Deity is the Providence which contemplates all things and which, in perfect Goodness, goes round about all things and holds them together and fills them with Itself and transcends all things that enjoy the blessings of Its providential care.
3. These titles, then, must be given in an absolute sense to the All-Transcendent Cause, and we must add that It is a Transcendent Holiness and Dominion, that It is a Supreme Royalty and an altogether Simple Deity. For out of It there hath, in one single act, come forth collectively and been distributed throughout the world all the unmixed Perfection of all untainted Purity; all that Law and Order of the world, which expels all disharmony, inequality and disproportion, and breaks forth into a smiling aspect of ordered Consistency and Rightness, bringing into their proper place all things which are held worthy to participate in It; all the perfect Possession of all fair qualities; and all that good Providence which contemplates and maintains in being the objects of Its own activity, bounteously bestowing Itself for the Deification of those creatures which are converted unto It.
4.. And since the Creator of all things is brim-full with them all in one transcendent excess thereof. He is called “Holy of Holies,” etc., by virtue of His overflowing Causality and excess of Transcendence. Which meaneth that just as things that have no substantial Being are transcended by things that have such Being, together with Sanctity, Divinity, Dominion, or Royalty; and just as the things that participate in these Qualities are transcended by the Very Qualities themselves—even so all things that have Being are surpassed by Him that is beyond them all, and all the Participants and all the Very Qualities are surpassed by the Unparticipated Creator. And Holy Ones and Kings and Lords and Gods, in the language of Scripture, are the higher Ranks in each Kind through which the secondary Ranks receiving of their gifts from God, show forth the abundance of that Unity thus distributed among them in their own manifold qualities—which various qualities the First Ranks in their providential, godlike activity draw together into the Unity of their own being.
There is none like thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who would not fear thee, O King of the nations? For this is thy due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like thee.
- Jeremiah 10:6-7, 10
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. . . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
- Revelation 19:11-16
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The original St. Dionysius the Areopagite was one of the people gathered with philosophers at the Areopagus in the first century, when St. Paul preached there, as described in Acts 17. According to Acts 17:34, some of those there gathered became Christians, including "Dionysius, a member of the Court of the Areopagus," a woman named Damaris and others.
St. Denis (Dionysius) of France was the first bishop of Paris, who was beheaded ca. 258 at Montmartre (Mount of Martyrs). Later writers confused them with each other.
About 250 years after St. Denis, an anonymous monk wrote books under the fictitious name of "Dionysius the Areopagite." In the ninth century, that author's work was translated from Greek to Latin by John Scottus Eriugena. At that time, the author was mistakenly believed to have actually been the first century St. Dionysius the Areopagite. In the thirteenth century, St. Thomas Aquinas drew from his writings, believing that the author was St. Paul's convert.
The following information is drawn from what little is known about the author known as "Pseudo-Dionysius," and not about either of the two saints named "Dionysius" whose memorials fall on October 9.
The influential writer was born around the mid to late fifth century. His true name is unknown. His writings can be placed during the late fifth to early sixth century. They reflect and quote ideas from the Pagan neo-platonic philosopher Proclus, who began his work in Athens in the 430’s A.D. Dionysius’s writings are first known to have been cited at the Council of Constantinople in 532. Between those two dates, he created a series of books and writings, under the name of "Dionysius."
This writer, often called “Pseudo-Dionysius,” claimed in his writings that he was in fact the convert of the Apostle Paul, named in Acts 17:34. By that fictitious method, he fully concealed his true identity. He wrote of Paul as his mentor; he included letters addressed to Timothy, Titus and John in exile at Patmos; he mentioned the time of the crucifixion. Such means of anonymity continued afterward within a Syrian monastic tradition.
Dionysius’s writings about God’s Divine Names drew from earlier sources. Another Syrian, Ephrem the Syrian, composed Christian hymns in the fourth century considering the divine names. Part of the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great also centered on a consideration of the divine names. In "The Divine Names," Dionysius undertook a study of the names used for God in the Bible, acknowledging that, as God has no true name, we must rely upon the names He gave to us in Scripture as symbols to describe Him, and yet God transcends all symbols. Dionysius’ other works include "Concerning the Mystical Theology," "Concerning the Heavenly Hierarchy," and "Concerning the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy."
His church was a highly structured community whose members had clearly defined roles. It was an ancient hierarchical society of monks and solitaries with common values. He never mentioned the world of work and play, never mentioned political authority, and never mentioned women’s position in the Church. His worship was highly liturgical.
Syrian monasticism in the late fifth century varied from community to community, but it was very hierarchical. Late fifth century Syrian monasteries often had several hundred monks in a communal residence called a “dayra” or “umra.” They were usually close to villages and agricultural areas. In a dayra, the monks were divided into 3 or 4 classes, and further divided into various ranks within each class, based upon seniority. The dayra would be headed by a risdayra, who in turn was subordinate to the bishop, archdeacon and chorepiscopa.
In most monasteries, the monks spent part of each day in some form of manual labor, while other monasteries devoted themselves entirely to spiritual things and relied entirely upon contributions for their survival. They had a daily routine of services, reading, work, eating and rest. They met daily for common prayer. Monastic rules varied, but existed for both Monophysite and Nestorian communities.
His church seems to have sung the Creed in the middle of the liturgy, as introduced by Peter the Fuller around 476. Dionysius might have been a bishop, but he more probably was a monk writing about the notions of divine darkness and divine transcendance. The first four of his letters are addressed to a monk named Gaius. He may have also intended to influence the fifth century conflict between Monophysites (who believed that Christ had only one nature or hypostasis once His divinity was united with human form) and Nestorians (who believed the Antiochene concept that Christ had two natures, human and divine). “The Mystical Theology” related to “the inner nature of what is accomplished in the liturgy: union with God and deification.” It was ostensibly addressed to Timothy, a hierarch, or bishop.
Dionysius mentioned his teacher, called “Hierotheus.” C.E. Rolt concluded that Hierotheus actually was the Syrian mystic Stephen bar Sudaili, while Andrew Louth concluded that bar Sudaili’s “Book of Hierotheus” was written later than Dionysius’s work, and that it only purported to come from Dionysius’ teacher. As Louth saw it, Stephen bar Sudaili’s work borrowed from Dionysius, and was part of the Syrian monastic tradition of Evagrianism which carried on Dionysius’s use of pseudonyms. Stephen bar Sudaili had studied in Athens and Alexandria, but his intellectual ideas encountered stiff opposition in early sixth century Syria.
Between 509 and 512, Stephen bar Sudaili was forced to flee his Syrian city of Edessa when he was reproached for his Origenist thinking, which opposed the Monophysites. Bar Sudaili then settled in a monastery near Jerusalem, an area that then remained more tolerant toward clandestine Origenists. Dionysius was misquoted at the Council in 532 in support of the Monophysite view (which would have been at odds with the views of the Origenists). However, scholars disagree over whether Dionysius was in fact a Monophysite.
Dionysius sought to base his understanding of God entirely on the Bible, saying "Now concerning this hidden Super-Essential Godhead we must not dare, as I have said, to speak, or even to form any conception thereof, except those things which are divinely revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures" (Divine Names 1:2). However, he was also Neo-Platonic, standing “at the point where Christ and Plato meet.” (Louth at 11) His work influenced later Christians, including the eighth century's St. John of Damascus in the East and the anonymous fourteenth century author of The Cloud of Unknowing in the West, as well as St. Thomas. He probably lived at least until 522. Bibliography:
The baby born in a manger in Bethlehem is the same King who indwells us in St. Teresa of Avila's center mansion and the same King who will come again in glory as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords of Revelation. It is awe-inspiring. Pseudo-Dionysius caught that joy in holiness and royalty and dominion in connection with the descriptions we use for God.
All of the words we use to describe God are inadequate. Dionysius grasps that fully and says, "all things that have Being are surpassed by Him that is beyond them all, and all the Participants and all the Very Qualities are surpassed by the Unparticipated Creator." All of the qualities we see in God are surpassed by God.
Earlier in The Divine Names, Pseudo-Dionysius commented that to celebrate God, we must "draw upon the whole creation." Conscious that God is "beyond the grasp" of all reason , knowledge, mind and being, that God is unutterable and nameless, he tries to describe God as well as he can from the names we find for Him in Scripture.
King of Kings, Lord of Lords, King of the nations (or of the Gentiles), the only joy of every human heart, the Keystone of the mighty arch of man . . . the names for the Messiah in the O Antiphons, drawn from Old Testament prophecies, also seek to describe what is beyond our grasp. God who is unutterable and nameless was born in human flessh to be our savior.
At the shows in the circus the spectator must join in the efforts of the athletes. This the laws of the show indicate, for they prescribe that all should have the head uncovered when present at the stadium. The object of this, in my opinion, is that each one there should not only be a spectator of the athletes, but be, in a certain measure, a true athlete himself. Thus, to investigate the great and prodigious show of creation, to understand supreme and ineffable wisdom, you must bring personal light for the contemplation of the wonders which I spread before your eyes, and help me, according to your power, in this struggle, where you are not so much judges as fellow combatants, for fear lest the truth might escape you, and lest my error might turn to your common prejudice. Why these words? It is because we propose to study the world as a whole, and to consider the universe, not by the light of worldly wisdom, but by that with which God wills to enlighten His servant, when He speaks to him in person and without enigmas. It is because it is absolutely necessary that all lovers of great and grand shows should bring a mind well prepared to study them. If sometimes, on a bright night, whilst gazing with watchful eyes on the inexpressible beauty of the stars, you have thought of the Creator of all things; if you have asked yourself who it is that has dotted heaven with such flowers, and why visible things are even more useful than beautiful; if sometimes, in the day, you have studied the marvels of light, if you have raised yourself by visible things to the invisible Being, then you are a well prepared auditor, and you can take your place in this august and blessed amphitheatre. Come in the same way that any one not knowing a town is taken by the hand and led through it; thus I am going to lead you, like strangers, through the mysterious marvels of this great city of the universe. Our first country was in this great city, whence the murderous dæmon whose enticements seduced man to slavery expelled us. There you will see man’s first origin and his immediate seizure by death, brought forth by sin, the first born of the evil spirit. You will know that you are formed of earth, but the work of God’s hands; much weaker than the brute, but ordained to command beings without reason and soul; inferior as regards natural advantages, but, thanks to the privilege of reason, capable of raising yourself to heaven. If we are penetrated by these truths, we shall know ourselves, we shall know God, we shall adore our Creator, we shall serve our Master, we shall glorify our Father, we shall love our Sustainer, we shall bless our Benefactor, we shall not cease to honour the Prince of present and future life, Who, by the riches that He showers upon us in this world, makes us believe in His promises and uses present good things to strengthen our expectation of the future. Truly, if such are the good things of time, what will be those of eternity? If such is the beauty of visible things, what shall we think of invisible things? If the grandeur of heaven exceeds the measure of human intelligence, what mind shall be able to trace the nature of the everlasting? If the sun, subject to corruption, is so beautiful, so grand, so rapid in its movement, so invariable in its course; if its grandeur is in such perfect harmony with and due proportion to the universe: if, by the beauty of its nature, it shines like a brilliant eye in the middle of creation; if finally, one cannot tire of contemplating it, what will be the beauty of the Sun of Righteousness? If the blind man suffers from not seeing the material sun, what a deprivation is it for the sinner not to enjoy the true light!